DC Police Union Sues To Block The Release Of Names Of Officers Involved In Shootings

from the can't-be-making-info-about-public-servants-public dept

Washington DC responded to widespread protests following the killing of George Floyd with a set of police reforms that tried to address some systemic problems in the district’s police department, starting with its lack of transparency and accountability.

The reform bill — passed two weeks after George Floyd’s killing — placed new limits on deadly force deployment, banned the Metropolitan PD from acquiring military equipment through the Defense Department’s 1033 program, and mandated release of body-camera footage within 72 hours of any shooting by police officers. The names of the officers involved are covered by the same mandate, ensuring it won’t take a lawsuit to get the PD to disclose info about officers deploying deadly force.

But there’s a lawsuit already in the mix — one that hopes to keep the public separated from camera footage and officers’ names. Unsurprisingly, it’s been filed by a longtime opponent of police accountability.

The Washington, D.C., police union said on Monday it asked a court to block the mandatory release of body camera footage and names of police officers involved in shootings.

According to the union, releasing the names of officers will do bad things to the good names of cops who kill people.

“The release of the body-camera footage and names of officers will unjustly malign and permanently tarnish the reputation and good name of any officer that is later cleared of misconduct concerning the use of force,” the union said in a statement.

First off, it’s almost impossible to “permanently tarnish” a cop’s reputation. Even the worst cops often have little trouble resuming their law enforcement careers after engaging in egregious misconduct. They may have to shop their resumes around a little bit, but lots of PDs and Sheriffs’ offices are more than willing to hire bad cops no longer welcome at their original agency.

Second, nothing about this should hinge on whether or not the force deployment was justified. If an officer is later cleared of wrongdoing, they’ll be able to go back to work. If not, they’ll probably still be able to go back to work — either with the DCPD or with any other agency more interested in staffing their forces than performing due diligence.

And it’s a little rich for the union to ask that officers’ names be withheld on the off chance they might be found innocent. The names of people arrested or cited are public records, even if they’re ultimately never convicted of a crime. Suing to get cops held to a lower standard is a terrible use of taxpayer funds. Public sector unions collect dues from paychecks and build their litigation war chests using donations from officers — all of which can ultimately be traced back to the same public the union is trying to keep in the dark.

The lawsuit [PDF] (which inexplicably isn’t included in multiple articles about the lawsuit) raises the specter of vengeful vigilantes hunting down cops who killed or maimed friends or family members.

When officers justifiably use force against a criminal suspect, the immediate public release of the officer’s name and the body-worn camera footage will allow the suspect and their associates to identify the officer and potentially seek retribution against the officer and his or her family.

This is a ridiculous reason to withhold officers’ names. This is Hollywood rationale — an uninspired trope that’s best left in an undeveloped screenplay. It’s not that it never happens. It’s that it happens so rarely it can’t be raised as a plausible argument for blanket secrecy.

The lawsuit also argues — equally implausibly — that there’s an inherent right to privacy contained in actions performed by public servants in public.

The release of the officer’s name and other identifying information contained in the body-worn camera footage will further impermissibly invade the officer’s fundamental right to privacy.

Doesn’t seem there would be that much privacy in performing public service, especially when someone gets serviced to death by an officer’s force deployment. But that’s the argument the union will make to shield its fan base from public criticism. Hopefully, the DC court will route this lawsuit to its OUT box as quickly as possible so DC residents can start benefiting from the transparency the district has finally forced on its police force.

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Comments on “DC Police Union Sues To Block The Release Of Names Of Officers Involved In Shootings”

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21 Comments
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, the /s is needed. The world is in many ways a very crazy place right now, and US law enforcement despite, to be fair, some honest effort, has been completely unable to keep thugs and sociopaths off the force. At best they get shuffled out of any precincts trying to keep their standards up until they finally end up in a department where they feel right at home.

And thanks to the effort of unions, who by now are often led by the worst of this sort of scum, cities have often signed away their ability to address this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes. However I thought ‘/s’ was for ‘sarcasm’ and I wasn’t actually being sarcastic: I really do think that’s what they (‘they’ being some police officers/union members) want on some level.
(Of course I want to be clear that my belief about their belief in no way suggests I endorse their belief, quite the opposite).

P.S. It’s really great to have someone express their point of view without leading with something like "look, you are an idiot" (I’ve never seen your account do that, but I’ve been feeling for a while now that apparently we need affirmative action to point out what civilized behavior looks like….)

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"P.S. It’s really great to have someone express their point of view without leading with something like "look, you are an idiot" "

Understandable. There is at least one sock-puppeting one-man-army all too keen on responding to any issue with a full set of Instant Ad Hom (TM).

"…I’ve never seen your account do that"

You’ve never seen me reply to some of Baghdad Bob/Bobmail/Jhon Smith/Sock Puppet AC #1-#25/etc then. 🙂

I do try to argue and debate in good faith and leading with "You idiot" tends to undermine that rather significantly.

The /s does indeed stand for "sarcasm" and has become vitally important in many topics since, as Poe’s Law has it, there IS going to be one or several clowns eager to use for real an argument you’d expect only to hear from a comedy show hosts dark parody. Trump, for instance, has been given up on by comedians because there’s literally nothing they can do which would be a caricature rather than an honest portrayal of the man.

"I really do think that’s what they (‘they’ being some police officers/union members) want on some level."

You may have a point. You only need to look at a few police union leaders or the way certain police "combat readiness" training includes teaching officers that killing people is an erotic event, to judge that a non-zero minority of police officers today look at the ability to murder as a fringe benefit of the job…

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Think of the privacy! ... Ours, not yours. Never yours.'

It is beyond rich for police to be making use of privacy related arguments, along with arguments that releasing names of officers accused of crimes would ‘unfairly tarnish their reputations’ given I’m sure they see nothing wrong with releasing names and photos of non-cops accused of crimes.

If police don’t like the idea that the public might see what they are doing while on the clock and being paid by the pubic they theoretically serve then they have a really easy solution: Quit.

Not that it’s likely to do them much good, because I hate to break it to them but unless you’re self-employed such that you are your own boss it’s pretty much a given that the person paying your wages gets to check your work to make sure you’re actually doing what they’re paying you for and not doing what you’re not supposed to.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

I can sorta understand the “holding back names” bit because of the “hunting down cops” thing. (I’m not saying I buy into it, only that I understand it.) But wanting to hold back body cam footage reeks of someone trying to hide a pool of vomit under a carpet and hoping nobody notices the smell.

Pixelation says:

Re: Re:

I agree. Naming and doxing cops is not necessarily a good idea. There are plenty of nuts out there willing to kill them without real evidence of wrongdoing. The court of public opinion does not have well trained judges…

Police officers need to be held to account and vigilantes aren’t the way to do that.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I might be willing to give their argument more weight if there was evidence of it being a realistic concern and the police showed that level of care towards those that they accuse of crimes, but as it stands I can only see it as just another pathetically obvious attempt to avoid accountability by claiming that the only thing that prevents police being hung from every street-light is the public not knowing who did what, an argument that I find heavily flawed on multiple levels.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"But wanting to hold back body cam footage reeks of someone trying to hide a pool of vomit under a carpet and hoping nobody notices the smell."

True enough. Ideally the bodycam would show there’s no issue to be investigated…or it shows there are issues to address in which case a public official paid by the public purse certainly doesn’t merit anonymity in his job.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ideally, yes, but...

Police unions want cops to have immense power without anyone to hold them accountable for the use of that power. They see all bodycam footage as “potential evidence of guilt”, even when it isn’t, and act accordingly. And when footage shows clear evidence of guilt, the unions will bend over backwards to undercut the footage with caveats and excuses (if the footage even makes it to the public in the first place).

Who should watch the watchmen? “No one,” says the unions, “even if cops are innocent — and especially if they’re guilty.”

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

When officers justifiably use force against a criminal suspect, … the suspect and their associates … potentially seek retribution against the officer and his or her family.

Golly gee! I wonder what would happen if the officers were NOT justified in their use of force?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"I wonder what would happen if the officers were NOT justified in their use of force?"

How?

"Justification" as it is currently practiced simply means that as long as the officer can claim that he was "fearing for his life" force has been justified.

A child holding a smartphone? "I thought it was a knife.".
A sitting man eating ice cream? "I thought he was hiding a gun beneath the container."
A woman slicing vegetables in her own kitchen? "The reflection made it look like she was coming at ME with that knife – through the other side of the window, 20 feet away."
A black man who’s cooperated with ever-more intrusive and harrassing searches of his vehicle? "He was sweating and obviously upset. I thought he was going to reach for my gun."
A non-violent black man suspected of paying with a fake bill? "I thought he was faking his heart stopping while on the ground with my knee parked on his throat just so he could leap up and bite us all to death, handcuffed or not."

It took the last one being witnessed and recorded by many bystanders to even get a charge harsher than "dereliction of duty" raised.

A LEO in the US will never want for justification even if the "suspect" is a quadruple comatose amputee in a straitjacket.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

They reveal their tactics by their words

"When officers justifiably use force against a criminal suspect, the immediate public release of the officer’s name and the body-worn camera footage will allow the suspect and their associates to identify the officer and potentially seek retribution against the officer and his or her family."
This is the tactic that police use and they therefor think that this is how everyone else thinks as well.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

They fear the patterns of violence will be revealed

If the public is given access to the names and recordings of officers that engage in violence, they will no longer be able to pretend that they didn’t notice a cop has been in dozens of incidents over the past few years. Right now they do everything they can to prevent complaints from being submitted then investigate themselves and give an all clear no matter how sickening the circumstances of abuse were.

Police should never be allowed to investigate themselves since that is a clear conflict of interest.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

“The release of the body-camera footage and names of officers will unjustly malign and permanently tarnish the reputation and good name of any officer that is later cleared of misconduct concerning the use of force,” the union said in a statement.

Nice framing. Better read as, "It would take longer to wait out the noise when officers are very questionably cleared of misconduct for very questionable uses of force." Not that they will suffer any sort of consequence anyway, but they hate waiting out the public’s attention span and news cycles.

Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Of course there is a reason.
You know that criminals don’t have rights. Even just being accused of a crime makes them lose their rights instantly.
Cops on the other hand are above the law. There is no reason to risk their privacy even after repeatedly killing dozens of people.

(ps: If you don’t read this as sarcasm, please fix your sarcasm detector asap.)

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