Police Misconduct/Campaign Zero/Eight Can't Wait/Safer New York
I was recently asked about my position regarding police misconduct.
I SUPPORT CAMPAIGN ZERO AND EIGHT CAN'T WAIT
I SUPPORT THE SAFER NEW YORK LEGISLATION
When a police officer commits a crime, it is my duty to prosecute that officer in the same zealous, fair and lawful manner that any other citizen is prosecuted. An officer should not be given any special treatment nor should they be treated more harshly than any other person facing the same charges.
The community often perceives that an officer will be treated preferentially by a District Attorney’s Office. To avoid that perception and to provide the fairest process possible for that officer and the community, it is often best to have a special prosecutor appointed to the case. This is something that I have been appointed to do for several other counties in our region and, conversely, there have been a few instances where I have asked the court to appoint a special prosecutor to a specific case. The legal standard for a District Attorney to ask for the appointment of a special prosecutor is that there must be a good faith basis for the request. In one instance, my application for a special prosecutor was challenged and the courts unanimously upheld my decision.
During my time as District Attorney, every police officer who committed a crime has been prosecuted, either by my office or by a special prosecutor.
When misconduct by a police officer does not rise to the level of a criminal offense, it is completely outside the authority of the District Attorney to discipline that officer or take any action in response to the misconduct. The disciplinary process is an internal process within the law enforcement agency and is dictated by the contract between the police union and the municipality.
I was asked about Campaign Zero. Campaign Zero (www.joincampaignzero.org) is a movement dedicated to ending police violence and it promotes eleven general principles, set forth below in bold caps. For each principle, I have added my position and a detailed explanation.
1. Ending the enforcement of so-called “broken windows” offenses. That is, actions which do not threaten public safety, but have traditionally been used to discriminate based on race.
I reject the Broken Windows theory. I think it is inherently racist and does not make our community safer. My policy has been to decriminalize lower level non-violent offenses. Tompkins County does not need its law enforcement agencies focusing on minor nuisance level offenses when there are more serious offenses which demand their attention. My focus is on the prosecution of violent crimes, domestic violence, sex offenses and offenses that endanger the safety of our residents.
2. Establishing a civilian oversight structure for our police departments. One which has the authority to set department policy based on community input and enforce discipline on officers in a way that is independent from the people officers work with on a daily basis.
I agree that this should be done. The District Attorney has no authority to mandate this and has no direct input into department policy for any law enforcement agency in Tompkins County. But I firmly believe that it is extremely important to the community to have input with regard to policies of the local law enforcement agencies.
3. Revising and strengthening local police use of force policies and training. This includes the use of de-escalation tactics and minimization of force unless all other reasonable actions have been exhausted.
I agree this is very important. As District Attorney, I have no authority to mandate any specific training for any of the law enforcement agencies in Tompkins County. De-escalation tactics and minimization of force training are critical components of law enforcement, in my opinion.
4. Establishing a permanent special prosecutor’s office at the state level for cases of police violence. In addition, lowering the standard of proof for Department of Justice civil rights investigation into police officers.
The New York State Attorney General’s Office prosecutes officer involved shootings where the civilian was unarmed. For all other offenses, the District Attorney is responsible for the prosecution of those offenses. When police officers break the law, they must be prosecuted. If the legislature passed a law that created a special prosecutor for cases of police violence, I would certainly cooperate with that office and would be bound by that law.
5. Increasing the diversity of our police forces so that their makeup reflects the communities they serve.
I fully support increasing the diversity of our local law enforcement agencies. Diversity is incredibly important within our community and especially in organizations that enforce our laws. I support additional recruitment of diverse candidates for positions as Assistant District Attorneys and law enforcement officers in Tompkins County.
6. Requiring the use of body cameras and establish policies that would require footage to be stored external to the police departments. Allowing civilians to review body camera footage of themselves and their relatives and have it released to the public. Also establishing substantive disciplinary measures for officers who fail to adhere to the agency’s body camera policy.
Most of the local police agencies use body worn cameras, the New York State Police being the most notable exception. After each shift, the officers place their body worn camera on a dock, which uploads the video to the server. The body worn video footage is provided to the District Attorney’s Office in all criminal prosecutions, after which it is turned over to the defense attorney in every case. When there are no criminal charges associated with specific body worn camera video, the citizen can file a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the video and the municipality generally must turn that video over to the citizen. This is already the law. Each day there are many hours of video footage stored in the department’s server. That footage should be accessible to the public as long as there is no good faith reason why it should be confidential. I agree that officers should follow the agency’s policy. Establishing substantive disciplinary measures for not adhering to the policy is a contractual issue that would have to be addressed during contract negotiations between the police union and the municipality. The District Attorney has no role in those negotiations.
7. Investing in rigorous training with respect to implicit bias and the interactions police officers with traditionally underserved communities.
I fully support additional training for police in the areas of implicit bias and racial sensitivity. I have organized this kind of training for the Assistant District Attorneys in my office and I strongly believe that it should be a priority in the training regimen of all law enforcement agencies. I personally participate in every available training in the areas of implicit bias and racial sensitivity.
8. Requiring police departments to bear the cost of officer misconduct instead of settlements being paid out by general governmental funds.
I understand the rationale behind this principle. The budget allocated to law enforcement agencies is part of the overall municipal budget. Either way, when there is a settlement, the funds come from taxpayer dollars. This is not a realistic demand in my opinion.
9. Banning departments from using ticket or arrest quotas in the evaluation of police officers.
This does not occur in Tompkins County. If it did, I would respectfully ask the law enforcement agencies to discontinue the practice.
10. Ending the federal government's 1033 program which provides military weaponry to local police departments. Additionally, establishing local policy that restricts police officers from purchasing and using military weapons.
I am in support of this principle, in general. Every community does need a SWAT team and there are, unfortunately, situations where this resource becomes necessary. At the same time, police agencies should not focus their resources and training on the SWAT team at the expense of community relations, sensitivity training, implicit bias training and investigative training, to name a few.
11. Remove contract provisions or policies that prevent officer’s disciplinary history from being accessible to the public. Also, removing policy that limits the fair investigation of police abuse of power.
The contracts between a police union and a municipality are often the subject of contentious negotiation. When a contract is signed, it is binding on both sides. The District Attorney is not a party to that contract, has no ability to participate in the negotiations and doesn’t even see the contract.
Eight Can't Wait
I support a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds by police.
I support a requirement that officers maintain distance with others in order to attempt to de-escalate before any use of force.
I support the requirement of a verbal warning whenever possible before shooting at a subject by police.
I support a requirement that all possible alternatives be exhausted before the police shoot their firearms at a person.
I support the requirement that other officers have a duty to intervene when they observe the use of excessive force by a fellow officer.
I support a ban on shooting at moving vehicles.
I support the requirement that officers be trained extensively in the use of force continuum.
I support comprehensive reporting requirements for law enforcement whenever force is used, with demographic information in order to see patterns of biased use of force.