Yesterday, NYT columnist Bob Herbert observed (subscr. required) that the cops involved in the shooting death of Sean Bell have still not been questioned by internal affairs detectives. Compare that situation with a John Q. Citizen who claims to have shot someone in self-defense. The cops want to question John Q. as soon as possible — especially before he “lawyers up,” as they say on TV. By the same logic, internal affairs investigators should want to quickly question cops who are involved in questionable shootings.
The rules vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but police unions push to postpone the hour in which an officer-suspect must meet with detectives after a shooting. In Maryland, there is an incredible 10-day rule in effect.
My former Cato colleague Radley Balko has been all over the Atlanta shooting. He makes some related points about investigation double standards here. I’ll add another: In Georgia, the police are accorded special rights during grand jury investigations — rights that are not available to ordinary citizens. First, an officer can attend grand jury proceedings. Second, an officer can bring his lawyer into the grand jury room. Third, the officer’s lawyer can cross-examine the state’s witnesses. Fourth, an officer can make a “statement” to the grand jurors after the prosecutor has finished presenting his/her case. (See Title 45-11-4 of the Georgia Code).
A case can be made that those special procedures can help a bad cop avoid an indictment or conviction. On the other hand, a case can be made that prosecutors have too much influence over grand jurors and that those procedures simply make the process more fair and balanced. Whatever the merits of those arguments, the double standard is inexcusable. If anything, the police should be held to a higher standard than John Q. Citizen.
If policymakers are not ready to end the drug war, they should at least scale back the SWAT raids and no-knock warrants, videotape the raids that do occur, and abolish the double standards that are in place when the police themselves are being investigated for illegal conduct.