Presumption of innocence: A reminder
Los Angeles, August 31, 2012 – Over the past few weeks, several LAPD officers have come under the microscope because of various incidents captured on videotape.
Whenever a police officer is accused of wrongdoing or even charged in a criminal case, the matter should be taken seriously. Accountability is a vital element of law enforcement and LAPD officers should be held to account for their actions. It is important to remind ourselves and the public that everyone – including police officers – is innocent until proven guilty.
An essential element of policing related to reducing crime and providing fair and equal treatment for everyone is to hold individual police officers accountable for their conduct. However, the simple fact is that police work isn’t always pretty and can frequently be violent. Not surprisingly, videotaped images of police officers arresting an uncooperative person who is resisting can be shocking to the average person whose only exposure to violence is in front of a television set in their own home or in a movie theatre.
A police officer can be held responsible in administrate hearings, civil and criminal courts for conduct while on duty. The facts of each case must be heard in an administrative setting or in the court of law before rushing to judgment. Indeed the presumption of innocence – being considered innocent until proven otherwise – is a legal right that is a basic tenet of our democracy and should be observed by every single one of us.
Because we see videotaped images with our own eyes, it is tempting to believe that we “know” what happened. A videotape often does NOT capture all of the evidence that trained, experienced investigators are charged with identifying, finding and analyzing. Video images can be very helpful evidence – so can eyewitness testimony and physical evidence. Ultimately, the viewing of video is NOT a complete investigation and can even be misleading.
“We are troubled by some of the Chief’s statements and actions that make it appear that he has prejudged the actions of officers; and, remind him that he has as much an obligation to ensure that our members, as well as the public we serve, have confidence that he will investigate and be fair in his adjudication in every incident. It’s a tough balancing act to be sure, but it’s the most important aspect of his position,” said League President Tyler Izen.
“Police officers perform a tough and dangerous job every day. Officers often need to make split-second, life-or-death decisions. Like everyone in this great country, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. No one should jump to conclusions before all of the evidence is heard and a judicial determination is made. While armchair experts will have an opinion on what they saw, the fact is that there are no shortcuts to the process of determining if an officer acted appropriately or not. The process must run its course before opinions are formed,” added Izen.
We expect law enforcement officers to hold themselves to the highest moral standards in their professional and personal lives.
Of course, if we fall short of fulfilling our responsibilities to the public, the Department, and ourselves, we should be appropriately held accountable. In addition, in this day and age and with our advanced intelligence, a follow-up question must be asked: Is there anything else our organization and our society can do to improve our performance, individually and collectively?
Chief Beck said, “Every Los Angeles police officer, regardless of rank, will be held accountable for their actions.” The work of more than 9,900 dedicated Los Angeles police officers should serve as public reminder that the actions of individual officers should not tarnish its trust and respect for the LAPD. Police officers serve and protect Los Angeles every day and we share Chief Beck’s expectation and confidence that, “We will get to the truth, no matter where that leads us.”
The “presumption of innocence” is a basic component of both the LAPD’s internal discipline system and our criminal justice system.
Contact: Eric Rose (805) 624-0572 or Paul Haney (626) 755-4759